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Distributed citizen sensing

**Distributed Citizen Sensing Diagram – Imagine distributed air quality sensors throughout NYC.


On December 2nd, 2011, I attended the NYC Open Sensor Network Workshop at Eyebeam. We focused on distributed citizen sensing of air quality. What are the challenges, limitations and possibilities of a distributed sensor network? The workshop began with an introduction to relevant issues and approaches from a great line-up of speakers:

Ed Borden, organizer, introduced with his experience in leading the first air quality workshop in Amsterdam.

Usman Haque, founder of Pachube, discussed various aspects of distributed citizen sensing in relation to scientific sensing. He also discussed the aim to create not only more data, but scenarios in which individuals can act on data.

Tim Dye, from Air Now (EPA) discussed their position in relation to citizen sensing and issues of scale, accuracy, etc.

Mark Shepard gives a larger context of related work (more info on the wiki).

Dirk Swart goes into specific aspects of hardware (sensors, RF platform, power, etc.). He discusses the power of cheap sensing by imagining, as opposed to one $50,000 sensor used by the EPA, 1000 $50 sensors distributed through the city.

During the second part of the workshop, we began brainstorming and scoping out potential ideas and proposals for distributed sensing. How do we get the sensors out there in the first place? Who will use the data? What are the possible applications and uses?

At some point in the workshop, one of the project proposals was the Air Quality Egg. The shell was designed to stir feelings of empathy and stewardship. It further extended to other ideas of marketing and distribution (for example, a half dozen crate for students and educators). Recent discussions have suggested thinking of the physical (bird) egg shell as a membrane with thousands of pores, which could conceptually relate to air quality monitoring. Throughout the remainder of the workshop, the excitement around the egg was propelled by cracking a few jokes here and there. The egg was a simple object that gave us something to focus our efforts.

During the last segment of the workshop, we re-distributed ourselves into teams to focus on different aspects of the design: industrial design, user scenario, interface/application, and distribution.

Since the workshop…

Eulani Labay and I have been working specifically on the industrial design of the egg (though it has been tough not to be thinking and contributing to other aspects of design!). Here is a slideshow and glimpse of the design development:

Ed Borden has held another workshop in Amsterdam specifically with the intention of getting sensors up and collecting data. Air Quality Egg in Amsterdam

Air Quality Egg presented at NYC IoT Meetup.

We are currently in the stage of developing and clarifying user scenarios and interactions with the egg and collected data. Through meetings, discussions, and the recent presentation at an IoT Meetup, it has become clear that we are not interested in just providing more data and visualizations. How can we build or facilitate scenarios in which individuals can act on the data?

With this in mind, the initial concept of the egg as an enclosure for the sensors that sits outside while passively sharing data has shifted. Instead, the sensors sit outside in an enclosed box while the egg sits indoors as an interface to the collected data from Pachube. The egg is directly connected via Ethernet (for now) and has a button and LED that provide a way of reading and interacting with the collected data.

There are a few meetings planned ahead to help discuss and facilitate further development. I hope to be updating soon about the progress. Until then, follow us via google group, wiki, or through pachube updates and blogs (by Ed Borden). Upcoming events include a smaller group discussion session as well as a kickstarter video workshop! Stay tuned!

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